Our Story

As we settle into our first temporary home in Rio, overwhelmed by all of the kind comments and messages left after the announcement, we wanted to take a moment to reflect on our journey and what led us to this point (click to watch):

Our Story

Since meeting in Vietnam 18 months ago during our own solo backpacking trips, it feels as though we have come full circle, now embarking on this new adventure together. My one regret is not having any video from those life changing months, but this time around I’m making it a priority.

This video is the first of our travel series as we explore the sights, cities and people over the next several months. I still plan to blog and take photos, but I’m also hoping to capture our story in a different way—one that can take you on this journey with us so you can feel as if you’re part of the experience.

Thanks to instagram and snapchat, I’m able to easily share these moments much more frequently, so make sure to follow me there for daily updates in between the posts/vlogs!

Thank you again for being along for the ride. It means a lot to us to know we have so much support from friends all around the world.

More to come from Rio,

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A New Adventure Begins

On August 14th, 2015, I published a post that changed the course of this blog and the direction of my life forever.

In two days I’ll be on a plane to Asia and life will never be the same … I bought a one way ticket to Bangkok to leave this life behind and start over.”

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Today’s announcement is strangely similar, yet different in so many ways.

In two days, I’ll be on a plane to South America with a one way ticket to Rio. But this time I’ll have someone by my side… and this trip is not about starting over—it’s about the start of our own great adventure, together.

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When I returned home from Asia to sell my house, I never thought I’d stay. I couldn’t wait to get back to a nomadic lifestyle, waking up to new places and people every day. But there was someone I had met along the way who would change those plans.

Lucas was moving to San Francisco to settle down, and as difficult as the decision was to stay with him in California, I knew I’d never be able to walk away from this connection we had.

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That connection grew into love, and the beginning of a life together in the city. He found a great career, and I decided to fully pursue real estate with the purchase of my first flip.

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But there was something missing. A void had been left in the absence of travel, and it was growing by the day. A piece of me was gone, and nothing could replace it. I couldn’t look at those old photos, relive the memories or even talk about my time abroad without mourning the loss of the path I didn’t take.

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Some part of Lucas felt the same, and he was also re-evaluating his career path and life plans.

After many long conversations, we both knew what we needed to do.

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It was because of a risk we both took in 2015—him leaving his career to backpack overseas for several months and me walking away from a marriage to do the same—that ended up being the best decision of our lives, and the one that brought us together. There was no hesitation, it was time to make that same decision again.

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A couple months ago, Lucas quit his job and a we booked a flight to Rio, where we’ll begin our backpacking trip through South America and Europe for the next seven months.

Just as we each did during our own travels throughout Southeast Asia, we have very little booked or planned because it’s all about the journey, not the destination. We’ll follow our internal compass and let our encounters lead the way.

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At the end of this year, we plan to return home for the holidays before packing up and moving to Florida in January. We’ll settle in Tampa/St. Petersburg and start our own real estate company, investing through rehabbing, selling and renting homes. We’ve both put a lot of time and thought into this decision and are prepared to fully commit ourselves to this business.

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That leads us to the future of this blog. I can’t make any promises about what to expect over the next several months while we’re traveling, but I can say that I will focus on raising the bar for my videos/vlogging (the next one is coming soon!)

There will still be blog updates, but they may not be as lengthy as they were during my last travels—it’s tough to predict right now. Lucas has also shown interest in contributing with his own posts from time to time, coming from a different perspective of transitioning from the corporate world to self employment, which some of you may be able to relate to.

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I know many of you only read this blog for the home décor content, and I understand if you
decide to check out until that resumes next January—I’m expecting it to come back bigger than ever once there are two of us working at it full time! But for those of you who stuck around and enjoyed following my first solo journey, there’s a lot more where that came from. And it’s never going away, as we have both vowed to make travel a priority for the rest of our lives.

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There are still many unknowns ahead, but we’ve learned that is where the magic happens… in following your heart and letting the universe guide you to where you’re meant to be. Each day is precious and tomorrow is not guaranteed, so there’s no time to waste.

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Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all—and our adventure begins now.

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Giveaway Week: Lowe’s

We’re ending Giveaway Week with a store that has practically become my second home during this renovation…

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I’ve been a loyal Lowe’s customer for years, since I bought my very first power tool. They were part of the early days as I stumbled my way through DIY projects in the Florida house, moved onto my first full kitchen renovation, and I used them for nearly everything in this cottage flip. From the the cabinets, counters, tile, sink, faucet and appliances in the kitchen

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To the brick pavers in the laundry and bathroom

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The dining room chandelier and floors…

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The lanterns and adirondack chairs, and of course all of the landscaping, paint, wood and supplies for my DIY projects (both interior and exterior)…

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No matter what space I’m renovating, they’re always the first place I look to. And lucky for you, they’re also generous because I’ve got a $250 gift card to give away!

prizegrab-lowes-200Enter to win using the Rafflecopter widget below (use one or more of the options for as many entries as you’d like). It’s open to international residents, and the giveaway period ends at 11:59pm next Sunday, March 26th (the winner will be emailed the following day, March 27th).

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Good luck to everyone!

Next week I’m dropping some big news that will answer the question of “What’s next?”… things are about to change in a big way, and you won’t want to miss this announcement 😉

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Giveaway Week: Wayfair

Today is Day 4 of Giveaway Week, and it’s one you all know and love!

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Those of you who follow my blog already know what a huge Wayfair fan I am, and that you can find their products in nearly every room in the cottage flip. They brought the personality to the bedrooms with unique and affordable items—you just can’t beat that combination.

I could be here all night listing off all my finds, but here are some of my favorites from the flip. The bedding, chandelier, lamps and mirror in Bedroom 1. Sigh.

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These ridiculously affordable glass sconces (that I bought 5 of)—and classic gold round mirror:

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This show stopping patterned tile (and chandelier, sink, and shower faucet set):

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The sweet floral bedding in Bedroom 4:

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Actually, all of their bedding. These flannel sheets were perfect for Bedroom 2:

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There selection is huge and always changing, so I spend more time browsing Wayfair than probably anywhere else when putting together room designs. And one of you are about to do the same because Wayfair is giving away $250 in store credit to a lucky reader!

Enter to win using the Rafflecopter widget below (use one or more of the options for as many entries as you’d like). The giveaway period ends at 11:59pm next Sunday, March 26th, and the winner will be emailed the following day (March 27th).

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Good luck to all, and stay tuned for the last giveaway tomorrow!

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Giveaway Week: Maison Blanche Paint Company

We’re halfway through the Giveaway Week, and today’s sponsor is one I always get asked about, as I’ve used it in so many DIY projects both in the past and in this house…

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Maison Blanche Paint Company has created a line of everything from vintage furniture paint, to waxes, to gels, varnishes, stencils and beyond.

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I swear by their paint, wax and varnish, and finally got a chance to try out their organza shimmer gel which I used to turn plain white clawfoot tub feet into oil rubbed bronze beauties:

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And give this wood table a unique copper effect:

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I’ve used their paint and wax to transform two clawfoot tubs:

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Remember this one from the One Room Challenge?

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In that same bathroom, an old buffet was transformed into a weathered wood vanity:

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And multiple products were used when we built the custom vanity in the upstairs bathroom:

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And let’s not forget the antique kitchen table…

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And the stenciled wall in the laundry room:

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I could go on all day! Maison Blanche is the only product line I use for my furniture makeovers, and for good reason—this stuff is the best. It’s not available everywhere in stores so I’m especially excited to be able to offer a prize of five products of your choice, delivered right to your door!

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A little goes a long way, so the lucky winner will be in furniture makeover heaven for quite a while.

All you have to do is enter using the Rafflecopter widget below (use one or more of the options for as many entries as you’d like). The giveaway period ends at 11:59pm next Sunday, March 26th, and the winner will be emailed the following day (March 27th).

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Good luck to all, and stay tuned for another great giveaway tomorrow!

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Giveaway Week: The Summery Umbrella

It’s Day 2 of Giveaway Week, and this next sponsor is no stranger to my blog!

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You’ve seen the fun custom sign at the entrance of the cottage flip…

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And in the foyer…

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And the customizable barn wood frames that I’ve used with my own prints…

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And of course, the oversized chalkboard that I find a place for in every house…

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I’m in love with all of them, and LZ (the girl behind The Summery Umbrella) is super talented and can bring any of your rustic barn wood visions to life. (For the crafty DIY folks, she also just released an ebook sharing all her secrets on how to get started making signs of your own!)

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LZ has graciously offered up one of her custom signs (worth over $150) to one lucky winner. You can grab the same “Paradise in the Pines” design that was brought to life from our collaboration, or have her create your own custom 24×24” sign that’s a perfect fit for your space.

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Enter to win using the Rafflecopter widget below (use one or more of the options for as many entries as you’d like). The giveaway period ends at 11:59pm next Sunday, March 26th, and the winner will be emailed the following day (March 27th).

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Good luck to all, and stay tuned for another great giveaway tomorrow!

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Giveaway Week: Jenna Sue Design Shop

Welcome to the ­­­­final week of the #cottagehouseflip series, where we’re wrapping up with five days of giveaways! Each day I’ve lined up some pretty awesome prizes from brands and shops who were a big part of this renovation, and now you’ll get the chance to score them for yourself!

To kick off the festivities, today’s prize comes from a shop very near and dear to my heart…

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Yep, it’s my own print shop! Some of you may have never noticed the “Shop” link at the top of this page, but I opened my art print business around the same time as the blog began six years ago. In fact, it’s still my “full time” job—in between flipping houses, blogging, & creating photo/video content.

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My prints have appeared in each of my homes throughout the years… you may remember the city maps in my Florida house:

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Or these Home & Address prints in the foyer:

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And there’s the popular Roman Numerals design:

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And another favorite, the script quote:

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And a recent big seller has been the photo to sketch art, which is currently displayed in the cottage flip:

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From wedding vows, to personalized children’s art, there’s a ton to choose from for any occasion, and it’s all customizable. One lucky winner will receive $100 in shop credit (international friends too!).

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Simply enter using the Rafflecopter widget below (use one or more of the options for as many entries as you’d like). The giveaway period ends at 11:59pm next Sunday, March 26th, and the winner will be emailed the following day (March 27th).

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck to all, and stay tuned for another great giveaway tomorrow!

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Budget Breakdown: Cottage House Flip

Today I’m here to answer the burning question you’ve all been wondering… just how much did this Cottage House Flip cost?

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I spoke about the purchase price, remodeling plans and estimated budget in the Cottage House Flip Kickoff post back in October, so it’s interesting to go back and see how accurate my predictions were. Turns out, there were a few unexpected surprises, both good and bad. This is my experience, and the lessons learned.

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While I am so glad to have gone through this process and don’t regret it for a second, I certainly wouldn’t repeat this situation again. The situation being buying a house at a not so steep discount in a very small/buyer specific market that’s 3+ hours from home just before winter. At the time, it really was the best option for me and I was aware of the drawbacks, but decided it was worth it anyway. And it was.

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But now that I’ve paid my dues, I’m going to be much pickier with what I choose to take on. This is a several month process that can easily consume your life, and you don’t want to be miserable each day or dread even having to think about it.

With that said, let’s talk about the costs involved.

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The purchase price was $170k, and my estimated rehab budget, not including seller closing costs, was around $93k—and I said I’d be happy if I stayed under $100k.

Fortunately, I had a very big advantage with a storage unit full of furniture/decor from my old house, the sellers that left all of their existing furniture, and brand partnerships who provided most of the rest (which I was not expecting!)

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These factors combined made my decor/staging/materials expenses almost nothing. It has been such a blessing to be in this position and I do not take for granted how insanely lucky I am.

On the other end of that, though, are crazy high labor expenses. Which brings me to a very important lesson learned: hire one contractor for everything. 

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I started off with a bad contractor who not only cost me a few weeks, but I had to pay another contractor to fix the damage he had caused. Make sure to have a signed contract with a clear timeline before any work begins.

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To save money, I had a separate electrician, plumber/tile guy, demo team and painter lined up, which became difficult to schedule around my general contractor’s team since everything had to be done in order and communication is so hugely important. I ended up paying twice for several jobs that needed to be redone. Never again.

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Apart from those rookie mistakes, there were unknown factors out of my control like dry rot in the back of the house and electric circuits that needed to be rewired. And then there were last minute decisions on things like add a concrete landing pad and wall with built in shelving under the house to create a mud room, pouring gravel along the sides and front of the house, recaulking every wall and ceiling board downstairs, and many other cosmetic extras that weren’t necessary but I wanted to go the extra mile to make things perfect. You’ve got to step up your game a little when Country Living is coming to shoot.

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In the end, there were so many extra line items that were added to the original estimate that I was simply billed hourly every week and impossible to separate it out by each individual job, so unfortunately I can’t break it down as much as I’d like.

My electrician total came to $4k ($1k more than my original estimate) while interior painting was $2700—around $1k less than budgeted, but he left without finishing and I had to pay to have it completed.

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My plumbing and tile installation total clocked in at $4200, but that was only for the upstairs bathroom, laundry room and half of the downstairs bathroom. The rest was part of my general contractor total and probably ended up in the same $4-$5k range.

The demo/hauling expenses weren’t quite as bad—around $500 for carpet and furniture removal and a few other miscellaneous things, but there was a good portion also built into my general contractor bill. Probably another thousand or so.

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The biggest single labor expense was redoing the foundation and siding on the front of the house, which came in at around $15k. A few unexpected items were $1100 to replace damaged ceiling boards in the kitchen, $3k for the exterior deck ceiling, and $2600 to repair the back deck dry rot.

All in all, the main labor & materials cost (not including the electrician, demo, interior paint and plumbing/tile work mentioned above) came to a whopping $80k (from an original estimate of $44k, yikes!)

Fortunately, I was able to cut way back on the staging costs by using as much as I could from storage. I also picked up new items at the Restore, thrift stores, Ebay and Ikea, and those came in at under $1500. It pays to bargain hunt! And bonus, I’m taking a lot of it with me for the next house 🙂

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And then there’s the operating expenses. Taxes and escrow fees came in at $2500, plus another $1900 for property insurance, $3700 in utilities and an estimated $1700 in private loan interest. Total monthly carrying costs from here on out are in the $600-$700 range.

That brings the final grand total to $102,248. Not too far from the original budget! Keep in mind, this isn’t exactly your typical flipping model with so much of the focus on custom details, higher end finishes and staging. The labor costs weren’t out of the ordinary and should be an eye opener for those looking into rehabbing an older house, or who care about the small details.

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Every house is very different, and has its own set of challenges and benefits. If your main goal was to turn a profit, it wouldn’t make sense to buy a quirky 6 bedroom vacation home in a tiny village in the woods (which is why it sat on the market for a very long time before I found it—no one else would touch it).

The house is currently on the market at $325k. There have been a few interested parties but we haven’t made a deal yet. There aren’t a lot of homes in the area (nor people looking, especially at this time of year) so it’s just going to take time to find the right family who is the perfect fit.

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I’d love to hang onto this home forever—have friends & family over for weekend getaways, use it as an AirBnB, pass it down through generations. That would be my dream! But I need the capital to continue to rehab (all of my money is tied up in this one).

Thankfully, even after closing costs (which is expected to be around $20k) I’ll still walk away with more than my original investment. It won’t be a home run, as expected, but the sense of accomplishment, the growth and opportunities that have come out of this are worth more.

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I hope this post has been insightful for anyone else going through their own flip or rehab, considering it or just curious about the specifics behind it. There really is so much involved and it’s a lot for one person to manage at once. I’m beyond thankful for my amazingly helpful and supportive family & friends and contractors who went above and beyond. Couldn’t have done it without any of them. It truly takes a village!

As this post is published, I’ve just arrived in Florida for two weeks of weddings, bridal showers and soaking up some sun on the beach. I have a pretty big announcement when I come back. It’s going to change this blog in a major way… so you won’t want to miss it 😉

But before that—next week is Giveaway Week! I’m so excited to have some amazing shops and brands on board who were a big part of this renovation, and now you’ll have a chance to get in on some of the action. Stay tuned for Monday!

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Final Tour: The Cottage House Flip

After four months of renovations and four weeks of reveals, we’ve reached the end of our Cottage House Flip journey. Watch it all from start to finish:

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I knew going in that it wouldn’t be a walk in the park, but nothing truly worthwhile comes easy. Between snowstorms, power outages and unexpected expenses, it was more of a challenge than any of us could have predicted—but some amazing opportunities and learning experiences came out of it.

In just a few short months, I’m much more prepared to take on the next one, and will continue to grow and improve through each new experience. I can’t wait to see what the future holds.

But for now… let’s do one final Before & After House Tour! (this is a condensed version—scroll to the bottom for links to each individual reveal, DIY projects and sources)

The Exterior

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After:

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The Kitchen

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After:

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Living/Dining Room

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After:

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Downstairs Bathroom

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After:

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Hallway & Laundry Room

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Upstairs Bathroom

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Bedroom 1

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Bedroom 2

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Bedroom 3

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Bedroom 4

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Bedroom 5

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Bedroom 6

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After:

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For more photos, details and sources, head to the individual room reveals:

Exterior

Kitchen

Living/Dining

Downstairs Bathroom

Hallway & Laundry

Upstairs Bathroom

Bedroom 1

Bedroom 2

Bedroom 3

Bedroom 4 & 5

Bedroom 6

If you haven’t seen the full video Before Tour, make sure to check that out here. You can also watch weekly vlogs of the entire flipping process and room reveals on my Youtube channel.

And as always, make sure to follow me on instagram and facebook for more frequent updates!

A huge thank you to everyone who joined me on this journey and lent me your support and encouragement along the way. There were more than a few days where I felt defeated, exhausted and wanted to quit, but I pushed through it and managed to not only survive, but stay on schedule and accomplish what I had set out to do.

As promised, I’ll be sharing a budget breakdown in a couple days for those of you curious about all the costs involved in house flipping. I was surprised by some of the results, and hope that by sharing my personal experience, people considering flipping (or renovating in general) will know more of what to expect.

See you in a few!

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A final photoshoot with Shutterfly

Today’s post is a fun bonus amidst all the room reveals and house tour posts, thanks to a collaboration with Shutterfly.

It’s a different feeling for this house, after working so hard for months and putting your heart and soul into creating a home, then doing one big photoshoot and it’s all over, forever. In my last home, I loved being able to decorate for different seasons and switch up the décor and style every so often. That’s what I enjoy most about this whole home renovation thing—getting to be creative and focus on the little details that make a space unique.

So when the opportunity came for me to exercise that creativity and take advantage of one last photoshoot in this house, I was all over it. Styled photoshoots? I could do this all day. Forget flipping. (Not really, I still need the money…) but this project was honestly my favorite part of the entire process. I was on such a tight deadline with the Open House that I wasn’t able to put as much into staging/decorating/photos as I wanted, but for this shoot I was able to take my time, play some music, throw a little party for one and be in my happy place.

Okay, enough rambling—onto the photos!

Shutterfly recently launched a new line of personalized home decor and gifting products. When they asked me to create custom products of my own and share them with you, I was so excited and inspired – and I hope you will be too. After careful consideration, I decided to personalize a few different items.

First up—a personalized canvas set:

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This particular photo is deeply significant to me, because it’s one I took during the trip that changed my life forever, on a trek in Northern Vietnam. It was days before meeting the man who would change it even more, and I’ll never forget how I felt in that moment. Still chokes me up thinking about it.

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I’ve been wanting something physical, beyond digital images filed away on my computer to memorialize that trip, but I’m super picky about my art and haven’t found the right way to display it until inspiration struck after browsing through Shutterfly’s pages of wall art options.

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I could have chosen any number of layout configurations for the canvases, but I’m drawn to large scale art and particularly triptychs (groupings of three).

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Luckily, Shutterfly makes it easy by basically doing all the work for you. You just choose the layout you want and upload a photo—it’s that simple.

You’ll need the original (high resolution image) for best results. I also used Photoshop to desaturate the colors so it’s neutral enough to display in any room, and you can bet I’ll be reusing these constantly in the future (for staging and personal use).

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I went with the largest size—three 24×36” canvases which happened to fill the wall perfectly (if there were no cabinets below and it was a full blank wall, I’d stack another grouping of 3 for the biggest impact).

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Thank you, Shutterfly, for allowing me to preserve this memory in such a beautiful way. These canvases are truly my favorite pieces of art I’ve ever owned.

I was also given the opportunity to design additional items from their personalized gifting line, and realized there’s a few special people in my life who would benefit most from a thoughtful, personalized gift. And it just so happens that one has a birthday around the corner and the other two are about to get married.

Enter these custom etched glasses for my hard workin’, wine lovin’ mama:

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They had a ton of templates to choose from, so I cheated and let her decide. She chose the “Best Day Ever” and the “Mrs” designs. I even let her pick out a cloth wine bag

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We had a bit of a warm streak last week, so Spring fever kicked in and I grabbed every pink and white and flowery thing in sight.

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Moments after this photo was taken I devoured all of the strawberries (and possibly some rosé…)

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Being the generous gift giver I am, I also let her choose a cutting board. How cute is this?

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The design was already made, you just type in the last name + date (and change the font if you’d like) and it arrives to your door, engraved to perfection. They have a handful of templates/sizes/materials to choose from, and I was eyeing the marble style as well, but glad we ended up with this one.

With Mom happy, I set my sights on my sister and soon to be brother in law. (Cristina and Kyle, if you’re reading this… stop now!)

They’re getting married in June, and I wanted to get them something a little more personal than something off the registry.

As soon as I saw these, I knew they’d absolutely love it.

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Kyle is a sailor and something of a beer connoisseur; while Cristina is obsessed with all things nautical and has been slowly making the transition to a beer drinker. And I am hoping they both share my recent obsession with copper.

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This personalized growler and etched pilsner set is truly the perfect gift for them, combining their greatest loves.

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Just like the wine glasses & cutting board, there’s plenty of options and customizations to choose from. You just enter the information on their site and preview it before ordering.

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The back of the growler can also be personalized, so I thought adding their wedding year was a nice touch.

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They even put thought into the packaging. Put a bow on it and you’re good to go!

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I’ve ordered from Shutterfly in the past (photobooks) but they’ve really stepped up their game in the home décor/gift department. To me, it’s the most rewarding to watch someone open a gift that you’ve put thought and consideration into based on their personality and interests, knowing how much it means to them.

With wedding season/Mother’s day/Father’s day around the corner, hopefully you’ve been able to take some ideas or inspiration from this post. Or if nothing else, a few more pretty photos to look at 🙂

Tomorrow I’ll be sharing the final house tour and condensing the last month of reveals into one big recap, so stay tuned!

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Shutterfly. Awaken your space with your vision. Shop Shutterfly Home Decor for personalized home accents that are uniquely you.

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